On March 23, 2012, longtime University City Mexican spot Zocalo was the subject of Gordon Ramsay’s profane intervention on Kitchen Nightmares. “It’s necessary sometimes for someone to come and teach you how to run a business,” Zocalo co-owner Mary Russell told Philly.com a few days after the episode aired. Less than a year later, the restaurant has closed.
We learned on the Kitchen Nightmares episode that Zocalo had driven a wall between husband-and-wife owners Gregory and Mary Russell, who met at the restaurant when Greg was bartending and Mary was in the back making tortillas. They married and bought the restaurant, which was probably the biggest mistake of their lives.
Greg worked all the time and Mary presided over the restaurant in a way that made employees think awful thoughts about her. Their two daughters, who worked in the restaurant, got caught in the middle of the mess. One complained to Ramsey that Mary liked to boss everyone around but not work herself, while the other said that the restaurant was destroying the family.
We also learned that Zocalo was a whopping $750,000 in debt. “They ask me why I don’t just close the restaurant,” Greg lamented. “But I don’t think they understand the implications of doing that. We would lose everything.”
Naturally, Ramsay came to the rescue. He fixed the food. He fixed the prices, which were too high, Ramsay said. And he fixed the family. By the end of the episode, things were looking up.
The official Fox recap sums it up as such:
In the weeks that followed, the dinner services at Zocalo became smoother and smoother… And most importantly, Greg got what he always wanted: his family’s support and Mary back as a true partner.
So much for happy endings.
The Russells did not respond to a call and email seeking comment, and it’s unclear exactly when the restaurant closed. But as of this week, most of Zocalo’s contents appear to have been removed. The website is still up, but the phone number is not working.
A quick review of court records reveals some major problems: a Philadelphia tax lien for $40,000; federal tax liens totaling over $28,000; and a “confession of judgment” relating to the business against Greg Russell for $39,000. And that’s without peeking into the restaurant’s revolving debt, which, at this point, is likely massive.